ORKNEY & SHETLAND

The Firth of Clyde is one of the largest areas of sheltered deep water in the British Isles, and as a result has been a major centre for recreational boating for well over a century. It is increasingly popular as a playground for local boat owners, as a destination for sailors cruising in their own yachts, and for those seeking a charter yacht holiday, or an intensive tuition course in the finer points of sailing.

Much pioneering cruising was done on Scotland’s West Coast, and the Clyde produced some hardy people who went exploring long before there were marinas, or even many harbours. To some extent they were following in the wake of the Viking invaders, who ruled the west coast for centuries before they were finally ousted at the Battle of Largs in 1263. Today the sailing visitor enjoys waters that are unchanged from those far-off days, although the shore facilities are very different!

A century-and-a-half ago the development of leisure sailing was just beginning, the Clyde’s designers and builders of yachts both large and small, sail and power, were soon producing handy craft, and before long were at the cutting edge of international competitive and cruising yacht construction.  Today, the emphasis is on participation, whether by owning a boat, chartering, taking a tuition course, or participating in one of the many competitive events that are hosted on the Clyde.

The Clyde’s long lochs penetrate far into the Highlands, whilst its outer reaches comprise a scatter of islands, each of different size and character. Arran is large and mountainous, Bute is smaller and more pastoral, whilst the small islands of Great and Little Cumbrae can be circumnavigated in an afternoon. The tiny Isle of Sanda, off the Mull of Kintyre, is unique. Its pub, the Byron Darnton, is busy with visiting sailors, even though the island has no permanent rOnly a day's sail from the mainland, Orkney is an archipelago of 70 islands best explored by boat. The Islands are an exciting cruising destination with an abundance of wildlife, history and outstanding coastal scenery. There are secure marinas in Stromness, Kirkwall and Westray, all with good shelter and accessible in all tides. Each marina has dedicated visitor berths and good facilities and one rover ticket allows you to berth in all three. Each of the Islands has its own unique character and local piers and visitor moorings, also included in the rover ticket, mean you can explore them all.

Shetland has much in common with Orkney, including a Viking influence, and a diverse population of seabirds and other wildlife which outnumber the human population by at least a hundredfold!  The islands have three National Nature Reserves and four RSPB reserves, together with a variety of native and rare breeds unique to Shetland.  Shetland is something of an undiscovered cruising destination, but with yachtsmen increasingly seeking interesting sailing challenges it is finding popularity with sailors from North West Europe who do not particularly wish to cross oceans.esident population.

For those sailing into Scapa Flow you pass Hoy, the highest, and most unique of the Orkney Islands. Hoy boasts excellent walks out to stunning sea cliffs at St John’s Head, The Old Man of Hoy and up the Ward Hill. Tie up in Longhope and be sure to visit the amazing Lifeboat Museum.

Stromness is a picturesque and bustling small town, shaped by the sea. Yards from the historic harbour, the winding streets lead to a range of eateries, local craft shops and galleries. It is the perfect place from which to visit the sites of the west mainland of Orkney, including Skara Brae, the best preserved group of prehistoric houses in Western Europe. A truly special place.

Kirkwall, the largest settlement on Orkney has many local shops, restaurants, bars and cafes where you will find warm Orcadian hospitality.  It boasts many historical attractions, with St Magnus Cathedral at its heart. Highland Park and Scapa Distilleries are also within walking distance. The Orkney Sailing Club offer a warm welcome at the Girnel, yards from the marina, with free wifi available and social events throughout the summer.

From Kirkwall, follow the Viking Trail to Westray where you will find the smallest of the marinas on Orkney. The welcome there is famous; marina staff will watch you approach and meet you when you arrive. Westray, known as ‘The Queen O’ The Isles’, has it’s own historic sites, RSPB nature reserve, beaches and eating places serving fresh local seafood.

Orkney offers superb sailing, whether in the sheltered waters of Scapa Flow or playing the tides while island hopping. Local sailors will be glad to advise you on the best routes and there are excellent sailing guides and other route planning information available from Orkney Marinas.

The archipelago has over 100 small islands and 900 miles of coastline, and offers a striking combination of dramatic cliffs and sheltered harbours.  Nowhere on the land is more than three miles from the coast, and five millennia of history can be enjoyed at over 6,000 archaeological sites.  Tidal ranges are small, typically less than 1.5 metres, although streams can be locally strong, and good pilotage is essential.

Like their southern neighbour the island group has also seen a significant increase in facilities for the recreational sailor in recent years.  As a result it now boasts four marinas at Lerwick, Bressay, Scalloway and Skeld, with a further 17 small marina or pontoon facilities scattered amongst the archipelago.  The capital of Lerwick makes a sensible first port of call for visiting boats - the busy town has everything you might need including plenty of pubs and shops, plus a shipyard for emergency repairs. Full details about Shetland’s marinas and facilities can be found at www.shetlandmarinas.com

Yachting has an important place in the calendars of Orkney and Shetland. In Shetland alone, 17 local regattas are held every year as well as the Round Foula Race, the Lerwick to Skerries Race and the FjordSailing Shetland Bergen Race which normally takes place in June.